The 10 Best
Our resident Vietnam expert (and Condé Nast award-winning travel specialist) Nathan Lane gives us ten more reasons why he’s so sought-after for his expertise in the region. Here are a few of his hidden secrets for the best food in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. (The difference between Saigon and HCMC? It’s similar to how New Yorkers distinguish the borough of Manhattan from the whole of New York City). Here are, in his words, some of his favourite restaurants, cafes, bars, and breweries in town.
For a bit of historical context to go along with your meal, give the wonderful Chopsticks Restaurant a try. The restaurant is set in the former villa of South Vietnam’s vice president, Tran Van Huong, who sided along with the US until Vietnamese reunification in 1975. The home has been exquisitely restored and the setting radiates sophistication, and the food couldn’t be better. Here, it’s all about beautifully prepared dishes and fresh ingredients, showcasing traditional Vietnamese cuisine. On a recent trip I guided, this was everyone’s favourite meal of the trip!
Hidden away on a small street at the edge of District 1, Cuc Gach Quan bursts to life as soon as you walk through the doors. Set in a heritage building that has been beautifully maintained, the restaurant meanders through different rooms, courtyards, and ponds of the ancient house. The overall atmosphere is that of sophistication and simplicity. The food follows suit—it’s simple, fresh, traditional, and refined. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, which showcases what makes Vietnamese cuisine so incredible.
Its name means ‘poppy’ in Vietnamese; an apt name for a restaurant housed in an old opium factory! This excellent location, just steps from the Park Hyatt, features a tucked-away courtyard with greenery surrounding. Great high-end cuisine in a nice casual setting. Sit inside for air-conditioned comfort or outside for an almost European vibe with big fans and lots of chitter-chatter from the four restaurants in the same courtyard. My favorite dish is the green mango salad with crispy soft-shelled crab & crushed cashews. (Take me back…)
The Ly Club is Vietnamese fine dining at its best. Set in an early 20thC French mansion, the service and style are impeccable. Enjoy a cocktail in the restaurant’s chic front courtyard, before moving inside to enjoy the retro-modern ambiance, complete with a grand piano and live pianist tickling the ivories. An inventive menu sets the Ly Club into a category of its own for Vietnamese gastronomy—get a ready for an elegant meal you won’t soon forget. Some insider tips – try the crab-pumpkin soup, the tiger prawn salad, the pork ribs, and finish off with the remarkable chocolate dessert.
Street Food and Snacks
Time for some street eats—look no further than Banh Xeo 46A, a small District 3 eatery that has maintained its charm for decades. Sitting on plastic stools and rubbing shoulders with smiling locals is all part of the fun here. You’ll understand why the smiles are so big when a banh xeo, or savoury pancake, is served to you. Pork, shrimp, sprouts, and spring onions, inside a lightly crisped turmeric rice flower crepe. Take a big slice of the crepe and place it in a lettuce leaf, top it off with basil, mint, coriander, and cucumber, then give the whole thing a roll. Welcome to the greatest wrap in Asia.
For your mid-morning coffee, make sure to pop into Cong Caphe. A self-proclaimed “hipster café,” there’s something special when you mix together amazing coffee with western music, and 1950s communist-esque stylings. With locations popping up across Vietnam, mostly clustered in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, they have found a way to maintain a distinct, yet eclectic, vibe across their shops. The ambiance is one thing though—the coffee is another. Here, the coffee is outstanding. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of watching the slow drip of a Vietnamese coffee filter over a thick layer of sweet condensed milk.
Marou is bringing chocolate to the forefront in Vietnam. Marou is the first large-scale producer of single-origin dark chocolate from the Mekong Delta. Their focus on fresh ingredients, rich flavours, and chic design has gained them international acclaim, and their products can now be found in 25 countries, including Canada and the US. Maison Marou is their dessert café in the centre of District 1. Even though it may be scorching hot outside, the fresh mint hot chocolate will blow you away.
Bars, Brews, and Brunch
No visit to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without soaking in the view from a rooftop bar, and the Sofitel’s MGallery Hotel des Arts Social Club is the best of the best. Standing high above District 1, there’s no better spot to watch the city’s skyline put on a glittering light show. Grab a couch, dip your feet in the pool, and mingle with Saigon’s elite as the city sparkles all around you.
Vietnam’s first craft brewery is making waves across the craft beer scene, winning award after award. In fact, their Imperial Chocolate Stout won gold at the World Beer Cup in 2016. Passing through an alleyway of Instagrammable graffiti brings you into their tap house, where you can have a tasting of twelve beers on tap, five year-round and seven seasonal. The Jasmine IPA and Spice Island Saison are as good as any local craft brew you could get at home.
Only steps away from the Independence Palace, Propaganda Bistro embodies modern Vietnam. Young urban Saigonians flock here for cocktails in the evening, and brunch on weekends. The restaurant is decorated in colourful war-era propaganda art, with the slogans altered to sentiments about healthy eating and lifestyle. The food here is just as fresh and colourful as the décor. Go for the fresh spring roll with tempura prawn & avocado, and the bun thit nuong – (vermicelli noodle bowl with grilled pork, herbs, vegetables, and fried spring roll).